30 Days on Adderall

04 December 2020

Chatting every couple of weeks with my therapist for the last couple of years, the topic of ADD, attention deficit disorder keeps coming up. As in, she suspects that I have it, and has suspected it for a long time. Always needing to keep my hands busy, traveling with a couple of books and hopping in between them every couple of chapters, an inability to concentrate for long periods of time when I want to... the whole shebangabang. About a month ago she finally suggested that we try to do something about it. So, she prescribed me a 30 day run of adderall with the usual instructions.

First of all, it really is as tricky to get hold of legitimately as a lot of folks say it is. My prescription kept getting kicked back, turned down by my insurance company, then the pharmacy wanted to call my therapist and confirm the prescription, then another covid-19 related supply chain shortage caused them to run out... I can't say that I'm surprised (they call me Captain Corner Case at work for a reason). All in all it would have been easier and faster to buy adderall on the black market but whenever possible I like to do things the legal way. I quite prefer a relative lack of unnecessary paranoia in my life as I get older.

Anyway, I finally got my prescription filled and started a regimen of 5mg of the extended release variant of adderall every morning about a month ago. I take it after breakfast, just before I start in on my morning coffee. For the first couple of days I'm pretty sure that I could feel it kick in as the earliest extended release grains dissolved in my stomach and hit my bloodstream. Rather unusually for me (because I normally run on a later circadian rhythm than most folks) I was awake and on my game well before I'd finished my usual French press of dark roast; about halfway through, in fact. It was like somebody flipped a switch in my head and I was ready to Get Shit Done(tm). For the rest of the day I was as productive as I've ever been - like I was getting ready to present at a conference or when I was working on my graduation thesis at college. However, because I have the metabolism of Shane Gooseman my body acclimated to the sudden presence of stimulants in my bloodstream within two or three days, and now I.. just feel more clear headed, I guess.

It's not as if I suddenly want to sit down and work. I am not, to riff off of a certain joke, feeling as if I am 8% more efficient at converting calories into crappy Javascript. Instead, it is significantly easier to concentrate on one task at a time. I don't get stuck in a mental rut and hyperfocus (though I really wish that I could turn that off and on at will) but I do feel like I can devote more brain power for longer periods of time to tasks. If my attention wanders for some reason, it's very easy to pull my attention back, usually after a second or two. Distractions are much easier to dismiss.

There seems to be a certain kind of anxiety inherent in ADD. The almost constant, subliminal fear that there's something I'm missing, some mistake I'm making, something I should be paying more attention to is a real thing. It appears to underlie the compulsion to flip between browser tabs, open shells, conversations, and everything else. Adderall feels as if it's suppressed that anxiety, and with it the compulsion to flip to a different task (with the concomitant time necessary to get into a new train of thought). It's not that it's made it easier to concentrate per se, but that it's made it much easier to want to concentrate and not feel like I'm missing something important. Things that can wait, can wait. Things that are important are just important. It's much easier to make mental lists of things in priority without external tools, or even a lot of mental processing power.

I have noticed that I start to decline in overall efficiency after about twelve hours, give or take. The last of the adderall in my bloodstream gets metabolized and the effects taper off. It also makes me kind of tired but not nearly as much as before because I devoted so many compute cycles to fighting against the tendency to flip around. The adderall tail has also made it easier to unwind at the end of the day, not only because the "what didn't I do?" anxiety isn't there, but instead I really do feel as if I have to do something else to relax. So far I'm almost back up to my high school reading diet of six books a week.

Something else I've noticed is that it's generally not good to take adderall too late in the day. If I sleep in (which I try to do on the weekends) and take my usual dose later than usual (say, around 1100 or 1200) the adderall keeps me awake later in the evening. Ordinarily it's not that big a deal but I do try to keep a regular schedule so that I can function more like my co-workers (which is essential when you're part of a team that's on five continents). On the weekends it's usually easier to skip my dose to compensate and not wind up a night owl during the week. Adderall has also, and I don't quite know where this came from, given me the idea ot turn the volume down anything I happen to be listening to. Unless it seems important (in which case I actually pay attention to it) it's just background noise. I don't really pay attention to what it is, which doesn't make for particularly good music listening, but that's for later. Over Thanksgiving week I also took the opportunity to benchmark just how much coffee I can drink before adverse effects start. It would appear that a little under one and a half French presses of coffee trigger the jitters. I stopped just shy of that and made a note of it.

From the relative lack of side effects and noticeable improvements in my life in general, I'd say that her diagnosis was probably correct. I'll have to go through the usual song and dance every month to get a refill on my prescription but I can deal with that. I can't help but wonder how things could have turned out if we'd figured out that I probably had ADD earlier in life. Would I have done as well in high school as everyone expected me to? College? Could I have gotten my masters' degree instead of going into the private sector? Would I have gotten into CTF or exploit development full time, instead of the weird mix of fields that I've made my career?

What could I have done differently? I don't know. As they say, coulda woulda shoulda. What matters is what I do now.